Green thumb runs in her fam­ily


Austin American-Statesman - - AUSTIN360 DAILY - D amer­i­can-states­man pho­tos by alberto martínez

Jen­n­fer Staub My­ers’ grand­fa­ther was John Franz Staub, a Hous­ton ar­chi­tect who made his mark by in­tro­duc­ing the coun­try house form to that city’s River Oaks area. He de­signed Bayou Bend, now a mu­seum, and his clients in­cluded the Hoggs, Cul­lens, Master­sons and other up­per­crust Texas fam­i­lies.

Yet he never talked about ar­chi­tec­ture around his grand­daugh­ter.

“He was really strict,” she re­calls. “My grand­par­ents were lovely, though sta­bi­liz­ing in­flu­ences.”

She and her sib­lings stayed with their Staub grand­par­ents in the Hill Coun­try each sum­mer while their fa­ther, Jack Staub, tromped around Mex­ico look­ing for plants and mu­sic.

“I got all those genes,” says Jen­nifer My­ers, who in ad­di­tion to be­ing a nurse is a flo­ral de­signer who stud­ied art. “He was a physi­cian and nat­u­ral­ist. If you met him, you’d never know he was a gen­eral sur­geon. He was the plants man.”

Her mother, Alice York Staub, was a Span­ish teacher who be­came a land­scape de­signer af­ter her hus­band died.

Slen­der and browned by the sun, Jen­nifer My­ers grew up in an old farm­house in the Me­mo­rial/ Spring Branch area. Af­ter the fam­ily moved there in 1953, their menagerie grew to in­clude goats, chick­ens, al­li­ga­tors, birds, snakes, a bob­cat and a lot of dogs. She played in the woods, built forts, and col­lected rocks, plants and feath­ers.

Bi­ol­ogy and art were her strong suits. When she grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Texas art de­part­ment, her fa­ther ad­vised her to en­roll in nurs­ing school so she could sup­port her­self.

Th­ese days, she spends more time build­ing Jen­nifer’s Gar­dens, a flo­ral busi­ness that em­ploys her own fan­ci­ful plants. Her de­signs of­ten in­clude var­ie­gated fo­liage, jas­mine, white co­ral vine, bleed­ing heart vine, clema­tis vine and as­sorted rare plants from her mother’s garden as well as mosses, grasses and palms, some col­lected on hik­ing trips.

She sees all kinds of pre­dic­tors of a gar­den­ing life in her fam­ily tree. She claims famed botanist and ex­plorer An­dre Michaux among her an­ces­tors. She once vis­ited the Jardin des Plants in France and viewed his orig­i­nal draw­ings of North Amer­i­can trees. A dis­tant cousin, Frank Ga­lyon, hy­bridized mag­no­lias, in­clud­ing a rare red mag­no­lia.

“We bought six red mag­no­lias and only one sur­vived,” she says. “I’m al­ways will­ing to try things.”

What about her hus­band?

Fred My­ers grew up in Austin and met his fu­ture wife while do­ing her taxes. He likes or­ga­niz­ing the hard­scapes in the garden, es­pe­cially the rock work. He was not sold on the di­lap­i­dated house in 1991.

“When I saw how ex­cited she was, I thought: ‘What am I go­ing to do?’ ” he says. “Get in the way of this?”

The place was def­i­nitely a di­a­mond in the rough — four tall rooms that needed a new kitchen and just about ev­ery­thing else. The My­ers fam­ily, how­ever, is re­source­ful.

The ter­races fac­ing the creek — which flooded up to the doorsteps un­til they put in French drains — served as an in­for­mal mid­den for former res­i­dents. It in­vited ex­ca­va­tion, as did a land­fill, which was not di­rectly as­so­ci­ated with the slaugh­ter­house that once rose where Bai­ley Park is now.

“It’s a rock box,” Jen­nifer My­ers says of the house. “But the walls are 18 inches thick.”

Once they had se­cured the land and be­gun to trans­form the house, the cou­ple de­cided to plan a garden.

“We had four de­signs,” Jen­nifer My­ers says. “We picked the sim­plest one.”

They turned to the Nat­u­ral Gar­dener as a source for com­post. Agaves and na­tives do well here. But they also in­her­ited her fa­ther’s palm col­lec­tion.

“We lost half of it,” Jen­nifer My­ers says. “That was be­fore we got the green­house.”

“She just puts stuff in,” Fred My­ers says. “Some of it works; some of it doesn’t.”

They planted eu­ca­lyp­tus trees, Aus­tralian na­tives that flour­ish in Cal­i­for­nia, of­ten to the detri­ment of the ex­ist­ing flora and fauna.

“They thrived for three mild win­ters,” Jen­nifer My­ers says. “Then we lost all of them. The up­per limbs just froze.”

Vis­i­tors are as fas­ci­nated by the pieces of ar­chi­tec­tural past that emerge from the green­ery as by the plants.

A set of Gothic win­dows came from a train sta­tion in Chat­tanooga, Tenn.

A cupola was saved from the Savoy Ho­tel in Panama City, Panama.

“When the Savoy was razed in the 1940s, the am­bas­sador to Panama took it to his home in Hous­ton, which was a John Staub house” Fred My­ers says.

“When that house was be­ing torn down in 1995, the own­ers knew of Jen­nifer’s con­nec­tion and of­fered it to her,” he said. “We loaded it in the trailer and brought it home.

“Years later, I was work­ing in the front yard and a lady iden­ti­fied her­self as the grand­daugh­ter of the am­bas­sador,” he said. “She rec­og­nized the cupola and told me the story.”

The nearby hike-and­bike trail along Shoal Creek and the shady lanes around St. An­drew’s Epis­co­pal School bring plenty of strangers in con­tact with the fan­tas­ti­cal My­ers garden.

“You can’t work in the yard with­out peo­ple want­ing to stop and talk about the garden,” Fred My­ers says. “So many peo­ple have en­tered our lives that way and stayed.”

The front door of Jen­nifer My­ers’ 140-year-old stone house is sur­rounded by a dra­matic garden.

Con­tact Michael Barnes at 445-3970 or mbarnes@ states­ Twit­ter: @ outandabout.

A small iron bed sits on a raised brick floor un­der a canopy of trees.

A mask hangs on the rusty metal gate that leads into Jen­nifer My­ers’ garden.

A plant and a stone col­umn cre­ate a rus­tic fo­cal point in a cor­ner of the garden.

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